For this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day I want to reflect upon a great irony of Nazi anti-semitism: Its nature makes it more difficult to deal with anti-semitism. I believe there to be a lot of confusion about anti-semitism, so here’s my contribution.
Of course, on the one hand, a bloody big hand at that, it makes anti-semitism very visible and has by and large tabooised anti-semitism. On the other hand, Nazi anti-semitism gets in the way of looking at anti-semitism.
First you have many forms of anti-semitism that exist because, not despite of Auschwitz. The first one that may think of is Holocaust denials. The excellent Deborah Lipstadt has spent years addressing that. There are further forms of post-1945 anti-semtiism:
Believing “the Jews” are out to make money through compensation. This has obvious chimes with the older links between Jewish people and “their desire for money”. I’ve heard this in Germany and also here in Poland (“Gross’ books on Poland are part of the Jewish desire to get money from Poles”)
Expressing solidarity with the perpetrators, due to the a belief that a member of ones own family may have done something harmful to Jewish people. This form manifests itself by being defensive regarding anti-semitism in the country one lives in.
Perpetrator/victim role reversal, which means making Jewish people to be those who did the bad things, or at least focussing on difficult areas like the Judenrat or on various conspiracy theories that “Zionists did a deal with Hitler, enabling Israel to come into existence and sending their fellow Jews to the gas chambers”, or here in Poland focussing on Jewish communists, who did exist, but not to the extent that “communism was a Jewish thing“, or at least not considering Jewish communists within the context of anti-semitism in Poland. Another form here is self-censorship, whereby people believe that the “Jewish lobby/Zentralrat der Juden” will be aggressive in claiming anti-semitism.
Refusing to remember. Here people will often say “the Holocaust was bad, but we don’t need to have days of remembrance or have so much attention given to it”. This form may not be so obviously anti-semitic, but here Jewish people are denied the right (explicitly or implicitly) to remember the Shoah, or may be liked to the “solidarity with the perpetrators” form of anti-semitism, whereby things like Holocaust Memorial Day may raise unpleasant questions.
Defense mechanisms. This form is not so much an ideology, rather in this form Jewish people form an unconscious enemy figure. The mention of Jewish people will here provoke negative emotions, which may not always be expressed.
We also have anti-semitic forms of criticism of Israel. Here Jewish people are denied the right to self-determination (i.e. to their own state, unlike with regards to Christian and Muslim states), or Israel being made out to be the scapegoat of all that is bad in the world/Middle East, or double standards being applied to Israel, or expressing overt solidarity with the likes of Hamas and Hizbollah (openly anti-semitic organisations), or identifying the Israeli state with the Nazis, thus abusing the deaths of Jewish people. Furthermore, the oft-expressed view that “as soon as I express criticism of Israel will be labelled as anti-semitic” is paradoxically anti-semitic, in that it assumes an enemy figure of those avenging Jewish people. This form finds a parallel in the “Protocals of the Elders of Zion” where a “Jewish hegemony controlling the media” becomes a Zionist one. I have heard this tiring view very often. I find that despite assertions that “criticism of Israel is of course valid, and not all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic” some people really want to hold onto this paranoid view. (I intend to return to the subject of Israel and the standard narrative about history in the Middle East in the future.)
These are the different forms of anti-semitism which are different to Nazi anti-semitism, while having some things in common. Gone are (by and large) the racist theories (though many hold onto the thought of people being “half-Jewish” or “quarter-Jewish”, though this reflects a general fallacy about blood theories) and to a great extent (talk of Zionists aside) talk of “Jewish capital” is less of a feature of post-1945 anti-semitism.
No, there’s another effect of Nazi anti-semitism. Anti-semitism gets associated with Hitler and therefore for many all talk of anti-semitism becomes associated with him and the gas chambers. Someone once told me “Zionists in Israel are typical Jews in only being interested in money” and when I said this was an anti-semitic view, I was told that “I bear no responsibility for Hitler”*. Hitler has effectively become a blanket which covers all anti-semitism, stopping many from being critical about it. To tell someone that their view of “Zionist conspiracies” or “Jews being hungry for compensation from Poles” becomes, for many the same as saying “you are a Nazi”.
Which isn’t true. I believe that we need to do a lot of work on anti-semitism, making it clear that a lot of contemporary anti-semtism has little or nothing to do with Nazi anti-semitism. Only then can people be more critical.
One more point. With regards to the culture of memory anti-semitism can play a role behind views like “Jews stop Polish/Russian etc. victims of the Nazis from being remembered” (here talk of a “Polish Holocaust” comes into play). It can also come to play with other victims like gays. “They (Jewish victims) get all the attention. Here instead of analysing social, political or national reasons why some victims have been given more time than others and being self-critical Jewish people become a vague enemy figure and the classic competition of remembrance comes into play.
You know what? I would love not to have to write articles about anti-semitism in 2013, having to explain what it is. I would love more u being given to other victim groups, such as non-Jewish Belarussians, Ukrainians and Poles; Roma/Sinti, disabled people, people in old peoples’ homes, gays (here i mean men. It was only, with one known exception in Neuengamme men who were put into concentration camps for being gay; here a competition of memory sometimes takes place between lesbians, who were certainly discriminated against under Nazi doctrine and gays), alcoholics, homeless people, unemployed people, prostitutes, communists, social democrats, anarchists and Jehovah’s witnesses. Here a lot of work is needed. (I wish to return to this in future articles.) The thing is, as long as there are people like Lib Dem MP David Ward or Labour councillor Kassem Al-Khatib who use Holocaust Memorial Day in order to lay into “the Jews” or “Zionists” Holocaust Memorial Day needs a lot more work on anti-semitism.
* In this and in other exchanges I have learned to not use the word “anti-semitism” as it triggers defensiveness in people. It takes a good contact with someone in order for them to be self-critical.